Sowing the American Dream: How Consumer Culture Took Root in the Rural Midwest

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From 1840 to 1900, Midwestern Americans experienced firsthand the profound economic, cultural, and structural changes that transformed the nation from a premodern, agrarian state to one that was urban, industrial, and economically interdependent. Midwestern commercial farmers found themselves at the heart of these changes. Their actions and reactions led to the formation of a distinctive and particularly democratic consumer ethos, which is still being played out today.

By focusing on the consumer behavior of Midwestern farmers, Sowing the American Dream provides illustrative examples of how Americans came to terms with the economic and ideological changes that swirled around them. From the formation of the Grange to the advent of mail-order catalogs, the buying patterns of rural Midwesterners set the stage for the coming century.

Carefully documenting the rise and fall of the powerful purchasing cooperatives, David Blanke explains the shifting trends in collective consumerism, which ultimately resulted in a significant change in the way that Midwestern consumers pursued their own regional identity, community, and independence.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Blanke reminds readers that the growth of consumer culture in the U.S. was more than a phenomenon of 20th-century urban development. Extensive endnotes and tables ... enhance this thoroughly researched book. Of considerable value to scholars interested in the U.S.'s social, cultural, and economic changes."


"This is a closely and ingeniously argued book. Blanke breaks new ground by using quantitative analysis of the advertising in late-nineteenth-century markets, and he provides extensive documentation for his narrative. He challenges the interpretations of rural consumerism advanced during this era."

Journal of Illinois History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780821413487
  • Publisher: Ohio University Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 295
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 9.03 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

David Blanke resides in northwest Iowa where he is an assistant professor of history at Briar Cliff College.

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Table of Contents

List of Tables
Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Problem Itself 1
1 Buying the Farm: The Midwest, Midwestern Farmers, and the Origins of a Regional Consumer Heritage, 1825-1860 12
2 Breaking the Prairie and Taming the Market: The Formation of a Consumer Ethos in the Rural Midwest 31
3 The Men in the Middle: Agents and the Development of a Demand-Driven Consumer Economy, 1840-1861 66
4 An All-Consuming Vision: The Expression of Rural Consumer Ideology, 1865-1875 94
5 Town v. Country: Advertising and Consumer Patterns, 1865-1880 132
6 A Battle of Standards: The Renunciation of the Rural Consumer Ethos by the Patrons of Husbandry, 1875-1882 161
7 Mail Order: The Commercialization of the Rural Consumer Ethos, 1873-1906 184
Conclusion 216
App. 1 Delaware County Granges 221
App. 2 Advertisements 227
Notes 233
Index 279
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